What does it mean to ‘respect the reader’ in today’s digital age?
February 9, 2013 | 8:08 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Two articles crossed my inbox the other day that approached the concept of ‘respect the reader’ from different angles.
The first was a write-up about a now-controversial Kindle edition of the beloved Canadian classic, Anne of Green Gables, which has stock cover art that portrays Anne as a buxom blonde, and not the humble-looking (but spunky) redhead the book describes. They designed the cover without even reading the book! They desecrated a beloved classic! Gasp!
The second article was from a Web designer, Baldur Bjarnason, who writes about a trick he’s noticed some e-book designers employing, and which involves a brief note that sometimes appears at the beginning of e-books. The note encourages users of e-reading devices to ‘turn on’ a publisher’s default font.
Bjarnason’s view is that the reader should always be free to use whatever settings they wish. He also suggests that a publisher who sets a particular default font for an e-book has no way of knowing what software or platform the reader is using, or what customization options they’ve chosen. He goes on to say that an e-book publisher’s job is to simply respect a reader’s decision, and to let them read. “When the only difference between [an e-book publisher’s] preferred settings and the reader’s preferred settings is aesthetic,” he writes, “[no, the publisher doesn’t] get to nag the reader.”
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These articles may be about different scenarios, but to my analysis, they come down to the same thing: ‘Respecting’ your customer means that you give them a quality product, period. That’s all this is about. In the first case, the Anne of Green Gables book packager has actually done the reader the monumental favor of indicating that the book has not been proofread. If it had been, they would have realized that Anne is a redhead (this detail is a central element of the plot), and chosen more appropriate cover art. But they didn’t do that, and now they’re paying for it—the book in question has been the talk of Facebook and Twitter. It also has numerous one-star reviews on Amazon (where the cover image has since been pulled) positively roasting them for their oversight. Customers will know to look elsewhere for a quality edition.
In the second case, I could go either way. If a publisher’s default settings produce an attractive book, that’s fabulous. But of course, there are reasons other than aesthetics that might prompt me to change an e-book’s font size or line spacing, or any number of other things. Locking me out of exercising that option because your book is a special snowflake that should only be viewed as you wish it wouldn’t sit right with me. Once I buy a book, it’s mine to enjoy as I see fit. I wouldn’t welcome the publisher putting any obstacles in the way of that enjoyment. So these days, my preference is an edited, DRM-free EPUB that I’m free to tweak as I see fit. I no longer pay for locked-down stuff I can’t work with.
Does ‘respecting the reader’ mean something else to you? Share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas on exactly what ‘respecting the reader’ means in today’s digital marketplace.